English prisons are set to be equipped with drone detection systems, in a bid to stop smugglers from flying in drugs, weapons and mobile phones.
The Ministry of Justice is calling on firms to apply for a £7m contract to deploy the technology in prisons across every region of the country.
The move comes six months after the MoJ formed a specialist squad of prison and police officers to tackle the threat drones pose to prison security.
A gang of ten were sentenced in December for smuggling contraband items into prisons using drones. But it is feared that as many as 90 per cent of drone drop-offs go undetected.
Richard Gill, founder and CEO of Drone Defence, said that once the new system was up and running, English prisons would “lead the world” in drone security.
The MoD declined to comment on the contract, but Gill suggested its geography and funding indicated the technology would be applied to England’s 14 high security prisons.
Analysis by data intelligence firm Tussell suggests this is the largest public sector prior information notice regarding drone technology ever published in the UK.
In May last year, Les Nicolles prison in Guernsey became the first in the world to deploy a drone detection and mitigation system that stops the aircraft from flying over its walls.
Gill, whose firm helped build the system, said the tender due to be issued by the MoD concerned the detection of drones, but not mitigation.
“They probably want to get an understanding of who has the biggest problem and where they’re going to need the mitigation systems,” he said.
“We can detect the video downlink, we can detect the uplink from the controller and we can detect where the controller is. We’re able to get quite a lot of information from the drone to understand what it’s doing and whether it poses a threat to the prison.”
He said that the rising use of drones as drugs and weapons mules posed a significant threat to the prisons service: “It’s not only the obvious impact of getting drug, weapons and mobile phones into prisons; it’s the secondary and tertiary impact too. So people overdosing, ambulances having to take people to hospital, prison guards that accompany them. It all adds to the operating costs of each prison.”
The systems produce prosecution-level evidence that officers can use to detain and charge suspects. Gill said it would cost around £500,000 to deploy a top of the range detection service that can locate and track drones and their operators.